oh, my beautiful idiot (rosa_acicularis) wrote,

Sherlock Fic: Arcana 2b/4

Because LJ loves to make our lives difficult, this chapter is split between two posts. See the first half here.




In her nightmares, her gran is dying.

When she wakes, she will remember the dream in pieces – distorted images and sensations filtered through the breathless pain in her chest and the hammering of the heartbeat in her ears. She will remember her grandmother’s house, the wind rattling the windows and the slow drift of sand across wooden floors. The air dry, biting cold, and her gran crying softly into weakened, weathered hands, the pain turning her into a stranger.

“Surgery is still an option,” Murray says, steady at Joanna’s back. “If you can get her consent.”

“I’ve tried,” Joanna says. “She’s a stubborn old thing.” She initials the chart and drops it into the slot at the foot of her gran’s bed. The sand is rising, spilling over their feet. Its weight is like ice through the stained fabric of her trainers. “We need to get housekeeping in here to sweep this up,” she says, her nose wrinkling. “It’s unsanitary.”

“Water,” Gran says, her voice a low rasp. “Joanna, you need water.”

Murray steps forward and pats Gran’s shoulder, his expression pleasantly, professionally detached. “Now, Helene, you know you can’t have anything to drink. What if we need to pull you in for surgery? Better safe than sorry, yeah?”

Joanna,” Gran says again, but Joanna’s pager is beeping and she’s already walking to the door.

“A nurse will be in soon to discuss pain management, ma’am,” she says without looking back. “We’re a bit short staffed at the moment – there is a war on, after all.”

Murray follows her down the long staircase to the front hall, over the threshold and into the empty street. Harry’s car is parked nearby, its windscreen dark with a blanket of dead leaves and its tyres swallowed by sand. Joanna sighs. “She’ll need me to dig her out.”

“Later,” Murray says, and she nods. They walk on, their boots loud against the pavement.

Early dawn bleeds into daylight, into the sun harsh overhead, and they haven’t gone far before the street cracks, giving way to sand, to hard-packed dirt. There’s a sound like a whistle, a warning, and then they’re pinned down along an empty, endless stretch of road, sweat and sunlight bright in their eyes as they seek cover.

“Shit,” Murray says at her back (always at her back, always behind her) and then she sees what he’s seen – Jimenez is down, is hit, no way to reach him without presenting herself as a perfect fucking target, and she’s thinking of climbing frames and asphodel and the sweet burning sting of a sewing needle at the heart of her palm when she turns to Murray and says, “Don’t follow me.”

She runs for open ground, and wakes again to hear voices on the stairs.

“Absolutely not,” Sherlock is saying, and the low, infuriated rumble of his voice calms her. His voice, and the cool, slightly chemical smell of Baker Street. She sits up in bed and takes in the steadying darkness of her room. There are footsteps on the stairs. “If she wanted to talk to you, she would answer when you phoned. As she does not, we can assume she doesn’t wish to see you at any time, much less in the middle of the night, much less in your current state of inebriation.”

“Oh, fuck off,” Harry says, over-enunciating the way she only does when she’s truly smashed. “She’s my sister and I can talk to her anytime I like, you gigantic chinless git.”

Oh, Harry, Joanna thinks, and she’s about to slip out of bed when she hears Sherlock’s reply – his voice louder now, almost careless.

“Selfish.”

“What?” Harry says.

“I called you selfish. I’m rather selfish myself, you see, so I recognise it easily in others.” There’s a brief silence, and movement on the stairs. “Do you know, Harriet, how rarely your sister sleeps through the night? Insomnia, nightmares, her mad flatmate with an unfortunate habit of lighting the kitchen on fire when the tedium sets in – it’s remarkable that she manages to get any sleep at all. And now you, her self-pitying drunk of a sister, making midnight visits.” Another silence. “Stay here. Don’t touch anything.”

Sherlock’s footsteps are slow on the stairs, and when her bedroom door opens he leans inside, a new shape in the darkness.  

“I can make her leave,” he says, “if you like.”

Joanna rubs her hand over her eyes. “Better not. I’m awake now, anyway.” She reaches out and clicks on her bedside lamp. Sherlock steps into the light, and his shadow stretches long behind him, out into the corridor.

He’s still dressed in the shirt and trousers he wore the day before, his sleeves rolled to his elbows. When their eyes meet, his lips twitch in a rueful approximation of a smile. “Nightmare?”

It isn’t really a question; you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to see the sheen of sweat on her skin or the way her left hand trembles at her side. “Thank you,” Joanna says. “For trying to keep her out.”

He looks behind him, at the open door. “A futile effort.”

“But not an unappreciated one.”

“A favour you can return when my own manipulative elder sibling next comes to call.” He takes a step back, out of the light. “I’ll send her up. Goodnight, Joanna.”

“Goodnight,” she says, but he’s already gone.

Harry stumbles into the room a moment later, barefoot. She drops a pair of sharp-heeled shoes to the floor and slumps forward onto the bed. “God,” she says, her voice muffled by the blankets beneath her. “Your flatmate is fucking hideous.”

“He’s not,” Joanna says mildly. “At least, not all the time.”

Harry rolls onto her back and gives Joanna a hard look. “Please tell me you’re not shagging him.”

“I wouldn’t worry,” Joanna says. “I’m not his type. If he has a type.” She slides down until she and Harry lie side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder. For a moment they stare in silence at the ceiling, at the elephant-shaped water stain above their heads and the motes of dust floating in the lamplight. “Did you ask Clara to take you back?”

Harry presses her face to Joanna’s shoulder, and after a choked silence begins to cry in wet, jerky gasps. That’s a ‘yes’, then, Joanna thinks, and tucks her sister’s head beneath her chin, pulling her close. Harry’s breath smells too sweet, like sugarless chewing gum and late harvest wine. “She said she’s bad for me,” Harry says. “That she en-enables me, that she’ll always love me but she can’t be with me, like she’s been reading those fucking books again, going to those meetings—”

Good, Joanna thinks. Good for Clara. She rubs Harry’s back in small, soothing circles. “She’s just trying to do what’s best for you – she always does. The woman would set herself on fire for you, if you asked.”

“I don’t want her on fire,” Harry sobs. “I just want her with me.”

Joanna lets her cry for a bit, wondering if Sherlock can hear them downstairs. He’s been without a case for nearly two weeks, and has spent the last few days obsessively reading the classified section of every newspaper he can find, muttering about secondhand hoovers and a lost parrot. When she’d asked what he was looking for, he’d simply said, “Fan mail,” and grabbed for the next paper in the pile.

Whatever it is he’s after, she hopes he gives her a little warning before it blows up in their faces.

Harry’s gone quiet, and Joanna tugs her arm until she’s sitting back against the headboard. “Here,” Joanna says, offering her the glass of water she keeps on her bedside table. “Drink this.”

Harry looks into the glass, her nose wrinkling. “It isn’t from the tap, is it?”

“Yes,” Joanna says. “Now drink.” She slips out of bed and pulls a clean t-shirt and pair of boxers from her dresser. She tosses them at Harry’s feet. “At least one more glass of water after that, and then you’re going to sleep it off. If you still want to talk in the morning, we’ll talk.” She closes the dresser drawer, and when she turns back to the bed Harry’s staring into space, resignation dark in her red-rimmed eyes. Joanna sighs. “I’m sorry. I wish there were something I could do.”

Harry raises her head. “There is,” she says. “There is something you can do.” She stands, setting the water glass on the bedside table with a clatter. “You can use Gran’s book.”

Joanna leans back against the dresser, her hands clenched in fists behind her. “Harry—”

“There’s magic for this; I know there is. You don’t even have to make her love me again, just make her want to see me, make her forget—”

“Harry, you don’t understand what you’re asking.”

You don’t understand what I’ve lost!” Harry cries. “How could you? You’ve never loved anyone the way I love her. You’ve never given anyone a bloody chance.” She stumbles forward, red-faced and far too close. “Saint fucking Joanna, martyr to her own perfection. All those weaker, smaller people – she tries to help them, of course she does, but everyone disappoints poor Saint Jo in the end. Poor, suffering Saint Jo.”

Joanna closes her eyes, her lips pressed together in a thin line. “You’re drunk.”

“You’re going to end up just like Gran. Miserable and broken and alone.”

“Maybe I will.” Joanna opens her eyes. “But at least I won’t end up like Dad.”

Harry stares at her, mouth open. She takes a step back. “I’m not—”

“No, of course not,” Joanna says before she can stop herself. “Dad never left Mum. He decided to take her with him instead.”

There are footsteps on the stairs, the sound filling the silence until they come to a sudden, eloquent stop halfway to the landing. Either keep quiet or kick her out, the footsteps seem to say. Some of us are trying to work.

“Jo,” Harry says, her voice low, disjointed. She sounds as if she might cry again. “Joanna, I—”

“Drink the water. I’ll be back in a minute.” Joanna doesn’t wait to see if she’ll obey; she slips out the bedroom door and onto the landing above the stairs. The floorboards are cold beneath her bare feet.

“Sorry,” she says to the shadow standing below. “How much of that did you hear?”

“Not much,” Sherlock says. He takes another step up. “You don’t have a martyr complex.”

“I might.”

“You don’t. Clara does.”

Joanna grins down at him, though she knows he can’t see it in the darkness. “You really are very good.”

“Obviously,” he says, sounding pleased and a little off-balance, like he always does when she gives her honest opinion of his abilities. He retreats a few steps. “Ask your sister to verbally eviscerate you in a slightly less piercing tone of voice, would you? It’s distracting.”

“I’ll see if she’s taking requests,” Joanna says, and returns to her bedroom. A moment later, she hears him descend the last of the stairs.

Harry is curled on her side in the bed, hidden by blankets and facing the wall. The water glass lies empty on the floor. Joanna picks it up and sets it carefully on the bedside table. She sits on the bed, her back against the headboard. “You ready to sleep?”

“I don’t know what’s more infuriating,” Harry says to the wall. “How awful you are when you lose your temper, or how quickly you forgive me when I lose mine.”

“We’ve had worse fights.”

“Yeah,” Harry says softly. She reaches behind her and lifts the blankets with one arm; Joanna slips beneath them, sliding down until her head meets the pillow. She looks up at the ceiling and listens to the steady sigh of her sister’s breath. “I’ve never understood why you gave it up,” Harry says.

Joanna folds her hands over her stomach. “The magic? You never understood why I liked it in the first place.”

“You liked it because it was Gran’s, and because you were the only one she’d share it with.” Harry rolls over, onto her back. Her elbow knocks sharp against Joanna’s side. “Did you ever wonder why she didn’t teach me too?”

Because you live in the world as it is, Joanna thinks, but she doesn’t say it. She’s lived in that world herself for years now, and she still doesn’t understand the difference. “I asked once,” she says. “But she didn’t really answer.”

“Of course she didn’t.” Harry closes her eyes. “I didn’t meet Gran until after you were born. She and Mum started talking again while Mum was pregnant with you, and then for a while she was around all the time.”

“Bet Dad loved that.”

Harry smiles. It isn’t a particularly pleasant expression. “She frightened him. She frightened a lot of people, you know that.”

“She never hurt anyone,” Joanna says, stung. “She wouldn’t have.”

“Maybe not,” Harry says. “But she was old when we knew her.” She props herself up on one elbow, leaning over Joanna until she can reach the bedside lamp. She switches it off, and the room goes dark. They settle into the silence, shoulder to shoulder. “When Mum and Dad died,” Harry says, “I asked Gran to bring them back. I begged her.”

Joanna swallows. “Nothing can bring back the dead.”

“I know. That’s what she told me.” Harry’s hand finds hers in the dark. “But it’s not quite true, is it?”

Harry’s fingers are cold and heavy over hers, and Joanna remembers the dawn light through her grandmother’s bedroom window. The sound of her breath when her chest rose for the last time, and the stillness after it fell. “Is that why she didn’t teach you?” Joanna says. “Because you asked?”

Harry rolls over onto her side, facing the wall. “Go to sleep,” she says. “We’ll talk about it in the morning.”

They don’t.

++

“Oh, brilliant,” Donovan says when Sherlock steps out of the cab. “Because this crime scene wasn’t creepy enough.”

Sherlock’s smile is empty and perfectly horrible. “Good evening, Sally. In your usual high spirits, I see.”

Donovan steps up to the tapeline, her hands buried deep in her coat pockets. She turns to look at Joanna, and the wind whips her hair into her face. She looks tired. “Doctor Watson.”

Joanna nods. “Donovan.”

“Decided to stick with the freak, then, have you?” 

Yes, actually, Joanna’s about to say, but Sherlock steps forward, his shoulders stiff. “Lestrade is expecting us.”

“Lucky him,” Donovan says, and lifts the tape. Sherlock ducks beneath it, and Donovan smirks. “Try not enjoy yourself too much, yeah? You make some of the forensic techs queasy.”

“I doubt that,” Joanna says. “If they work with Anderson, they must have strong stomachs.” She crosses under the tape. “Thank you, Sergeant.” She holds Donovan’s gaze and lets her eyes say the rest: You’re dismissed. Donovan scowls and walks off, her heels clicking on the pavement.

Sherlock hides his grin in the collar of his coat, but Joanna sees it anyway.

“Something funny?” she asks.

“Not particularly.” He turns his attention to the little brick house in front of them, and the crowd of police officers blocking the open door. His eyes narrow, taking in the scene. To Joanna, it looks like an aggressively normal little street lined with aggressively normal little houses. She wonders what Sherlock sees. “You do realise,” he says, “that I neither want nor need you to defend me.”

Joanna shrugs. “I wasn’t.”

“Good.” He looks at her, a glance from the corner of his eye. “Shall we?”

They walk side by side up the drive to the house and push past the officers standing on the front steps. They stop abruptly when they see the sign on the door.

Madame Seostris, it says in a flowing, dramatic script. Seer, Occultist, and Witch. Hours by appointment only.

“Fantastic,” Sherlock says, his voice bone dry. “Not even through the front door, and already I’ve two suspects in mind.”

Joanna tries to look amused. “Hansel and Gretel?”

He nods, deadpan. “I blame violence on television. Corrupts young minds.” He disappears into the house, and the dark shape of his coat merges with the shadows in the hall.

Joanna’s about to follow when she notices the potpourri satchel hanging below Madame Seostris’ sign. The satchel’s a drab little thing compared to the elegant script above – it’s been embroidered with a sigil of some kind, but the stitching is crooked and hastily done. A blessing, maybe, or an inscription of welcome. Not one she recognises or remembers. She leans forward to smell it and reels back, coughing.

“Gone off, has it?” asks a nearby PC, steadying Joanna with a hand on her arm.

She nods, tears stinging her eyes. Her throat feels raw. “You might say that.” Or you might say it’s been stuffed full of a deadly hallucinogenic weed, she thinks, stepping carefully over the threshold, her eyes on the satchel. Datura is common enough, but no one sane would think it a cheery scent to add to a home decoration. Every part of the plant is poisonous, often fatally so, and it’s used only in the most desperate and dangerous of charms.

There’s nothing particularly desperate or dangerous about the Madame’s empty sitting room. Heavy drapes hang over the windows, shutting out the last of the evening sun. The carpet is thick and wine-red, and it muffles the sound of Joanna’s footsteps as she walks to the small, round table in the middle of the room. The tablecloth is black, embroidered with your typical grab bag of magical signs and symbols – pentagrams and crescent moons, ankhs and runes and the occasional Ouroboros – and at its centre sits a crystal ball in an ornate silver stand.

Joanna walks to the windows and pulls back the drape. Three more satchels hang over each pane of glass, all stitched in black thread with the same sigil. She lets the curtain fall back into place.

“Madame Viola Seostris,” she hears Lestrade say from a room down the hall. “Aged 57. Legal name was Eileen Farmer. Client found her this morning – the door was unlocked.”

Joanna turns the corner into the kitchen, squinting into the sudden light of the crime scene lamps. Lestrade, Anderson, and Sherlock stand around a long wood dining table, staring down at the corpse posed serenely on its surface.

Sherlock bends until his face hovers over the corpse’s, his expression equally serene. “You think she was murdered, then.”

“No,” Anderson drawls with all his usual charm, “I think she decided mid-arrhythmia to take a quick snooze on the kitchen table.”

Lestrade tucks his notepad into his coat pocket. “You have to admit, Sherlock, the body does look as if it’s been deliberately arranged.”

“Hmm,” Sherlock says, the politest equivalent of you hopeless moron in his vocabulary. He lifts his head and looks straight at Joanna. “Your opinion, Doctor?”

Joanna walks up to the table, ignoring Anderson’s venomous glare in her direction. The kitchen lacks the theatrical atmosphere of the sitting room – the work surfaces are clean but stained with long use, and the bundles of dried herbs hanging from the low ceiling are the room’s only decoration. The table itself is old and pitted with holes, dotted by hard puddles of yellow candle wax.

“Acute photosensitivity,” Sherlock says from over her shoulder. “She kept heavy shades on all her lamps, and often worked by candlelight.” He leans forward until his mouth is near her ear. “Well observed, but hardly germane to the task at hand.”

Photophobia is a symptom of datura poisoning, but she’s sure he knows that. Sherlock may not be much of a herbalist, but he recognises a deadly toxin when he smells it. She smiles. “Sherlock?”

“Yes?”

“Back off.”

He does, if only slightly. She turns her attention to the body.

Madame Seostris was a handsome woman. Her short-cropped hair is dyed unnaturally dark, and though her skin has faded grey beneath her makeup, there’s something like life still in the strong angles of her cheekbones and chin. Her feet are bare, her trousers and blouse black, simple – expensive. Her arms are folded unnaturally across her chest, like a carving on a pharaoh’s tomb. She’s almost smiling.

Joanna takes a pair of latex gloves from her coat pocket and snaps them on. Her examination of the body reveals no obvious external signs of cause of death – no blood, no bruising beyond the expected lividity, no indication of any injury whatsoever. She leans close and smells the mouth and hands. They stink of datura.

Joanna has more experience with the dying than the dead, but she’s sure enough when she turns to Sherlock and says, “A toxin, most likely self-administered. Judging by rigor, I’d say time of death was between eight and eleven o’clock last night.” After moonrise.

Anderson scowls. “There’s no evidence to suggest that the poison was self-administered.”

Joanna plucks a pair of tweezers from a nearby tray of forensic tools and eases a sliver of green from beneath one of the fingernails on the right hand. She drops it into a plastic evidence bag. “There is now,” she says.

Sherlock snaps the bag out of her hand. “Datura stramonium,” he says, lingering over each syllable with a sort of morbid delight. “The devil’s weed. A popular hallucinogen among the desperately spiritual and terminally stupid.” He grins. “Supposedly used by the witches of medieval Europe in their dark, ecstatic rites.”

Somehow Joanna manages not to roll her eyes.

“Hold on,” Lestrade says, stepping forward. “Are you saying this was an accidental overdose?”

Sherlock snorts. “Hardly. Datura is a powerful, agitating deliriant; her death was clearly a peaceful one, so she must have fallen comatose shortly after she ingested the toxin. Given her past recreational use of the weed, we can assume she knew the difference between an amount that would send her flying through the night on her broomstick and one that would kill her almost instantly. Her overdose was deliberate.”

“That’s a lovely little story,” Anderson says, “but it doesn’t explain the position of the body, or why it’s on the bloody kitchen table.”

Joanna has been Sherlock’s crime fighting sidekick long enough to know that this is when things devolve into pointless insults and bickering. Sure enough, Sherlock says, “Honestly, Anderson, even you can’t be that dim,” and they’re off. Lestrade steps in the middle to referee, and Joanna tunes them out.

If Sherlock is right, Seostris was using datura to augment both her spells and her state of mind as she cast them. This time of year, she’d almost certainly have to be growing her own, probably under a heat lamp in a garden shed behind the house – she’d have kept the datura as isolated as possible, and she never would have handled it without gloves. Unless, of course, she were about to commit suicide.

Joanna looks around the kitchen, trying to ignore the creeping ache in her leg. There’s something important she’s missing. Something even Sherlock isn’t going to see.

Another satchel hangs in the kitchen window, half hidden behind a bundle of lavender. To mask the smell, she thinks, and she’s about to step toward it when Sherlock whirls out of the room and down the hall.

“Bastard,” Anderson hisses, and stalks after him.

Lestrade sighs. “Suppose that means we’re off to the garden, then.” He shoves his hands in his coat pockets and generally looks like a man desperate for a cigarette. “You coming?”

“I’ll catch up.” She gives him a small half-smile, the most she can manage at the moment. “Try not to let them kill each other?”

He shakes his head. “I tell you, if it weren’t for all the paperwork I’d have to wade through after—” Anderson shouts somewhere in the distance, and Lestrade sighs again. “Bloody children, the both of them,” he mutters and disappears down the hall.

The satchel hangs high in the window over the sink, tied to the curtain rod with a bit of twine. Joanna pushes up onto her toes and reaches for it, fingers outstretched.

It’s like grabbing hold of a live electrical wire. The shock slams through her arm and into her chest, and she doubles over in front of the sink, gasping. The satchel falls, landing at her feet.

Her left arm is numb from shoulder to fingertips, a dead weight at her side. If she hadn’t been wearing gloves the spell almost certainly would have stopped her heart – the heart thundering now in her throat, beating out its furious rhythm against her ribs. And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices, she thinks, in the lost lilac and the lost sea voices, but Eliot always puts Sherlock in a mood, so she doesn’t say it aloud. She starts to laugh instead.

She’d forgotten magic could feel like this. It’s marvellous.

Joanna slumps down to the floor, kitchen cabinets cool against her back, and scoops up the satchel with one finger. It swings in the air, harmless and disarmed. An empty gun.

She rips open the bottom seam with her good hand and her teeth, wrinkling her nose against the smell. Datura stinks of decay, of birds rotting in shoeboxes. Sick beds and blood on sand. She reaches into the open satchel and pinches two gloved fingers through the leaves and seeds and ash until she finds the source of the spell that nearly killed her.

It’s a man shaped out of clay, small enough to sit easily in the palm of her hand. Its arms are bound behind its back, its clay legs tied together with twine. To bind an enemy, Joanna thinks, remembering the yellowed pages of her grandmother’s book. To keep him from your door.

She buries her fingers in the clay man’s chest and digs out a coiled slip of white paper. She unrolls it clumsily with her right hand, pressing it open against her thigh.

Moriarty, it says, long letters shaped in black ink. Below the name a brown spot of dry blood stains the paper, the size of a finger prick. Joanna closes her eyes.

Only half a name. It never would have worked, not even with the blood, and Seostris knew it. She knew it wasn’t enough, and still she hung little bags of cloth and ash like lamps in the windows, to keep away the dark. To buy her the time she needed.

The corpse on the table smiles, her arms folded across her chest like an ancient king’s, like a pharaoh’s in stone. Like someone prepared for death.

Who would sponsor a serial killer? Joanna had asked that first night, when Sherlock told her the cabbie’s story. When she first heard the name Moriarty. Why would anyone—

I’ve no idea, Sherlock had said, his voice low and inescapably pleased. That was the last they’d spoken of it.

There’s a rubbish bin beneath the sink. Joanna crams the satchel and the clay man inside, below the fruit peels and used plastic wrap. Destroying the evidence, she thinks, and shoves the slip of paper into her coat pocket. It hardly matters – she knows what happened, and there’s nothing the police can do. Nothing she could tell Sherlock that would make him believe.

“You know, you’ve put me in a very awkward position,” she tells Seostris’ body, and crawls under the table. Just in time, too – at the back of the house, a door slams. A single pair of footsteps rings down the corridor.

“Superstitious imbecility,” Sherlock’s shoes say, storming into the kitchen. “Find a couple of chalk stars drawn on the floorboards and suddenly the Keystone Kops turn into the Brothers bloody Grimm. Of all the backward, simple-minded—” He stops abruptly. “You’re under the table.”

“Really?” she says. “No wonder the ceiling’s so low.”

Sherlock’s shoes step closer. “Joanna?”

“Yes, Sherlock?”

“Why are you under the table?”

“Because,” Joanna says, “that’s where the suicide note is.”  

He drops into a crouch beside her. It must have started to rain; his hair is damp, and he smells like wet earth. There’s a smudge of dirt on his chin. “You’re not serious.”

“There’s always something,” Joanna says, and slides over so he can join her under the table. He does, his knees tucked to his chest. They both look up.

The first column burnt into the underside of the table begins with E. Hopkins 1844 and ends with V. Steward 1893. The inscriptions grow longer in the next column: R. Steward from a weak heart 1906 is followed by T. Steward born small, 1910 and L. Steward 1910, in childbirth. By the years of the Great War the Stewards have given way to the Scotts, the Scotts to the Barrows. F. and S. Barrow. Air raid, 1940. E. Russell-Barrow born in excellent health, 1943. K. Farmer, from cancer of the bone. 1950.

Sherlock’s fingers slide over the names as he reads, his gaze flowing from one line to the next with unsurprising speed. Joanna watches his face as he reaches the end.

E. Farmer, says the last inscription. In defiance, 2010. The scorch marks are fresh. Joanna can still smell the burning wood.

Sherlock exhales, wonder in his pale eyes. “She added her own death.”

“They’ll find that she ingested the datura voluntarily during the autopsy. Until then, this is your proof.”

He turns to her, his focus sudden and blistering. “You knew this would be here. How?”

Harry keeps their grandmother’s kitchen table in a storage unit in Haringey. Joanna remembers sitting beneath it when she was small, tracing the burnt letters of her name. Of her mother’s. P. Russell, born 1950. Then, after Harry’s name and her own: P. Watson, traffic accident. 1985.

Joanna added Gran’s death the morning the ambulance left with the body. She burnt herself with the soldering iron; she still has the scar.

“I didn’t know it would be here,” she says. “I dropped my notepad, and when I bent down to pick it up, I saw the writing.”

It sounds like the truth. Sherlock frowns, but she can tell that he believes her. He looks up at the underside of the table. “E. Farmer,” he says. “In defiance.”

Feeling has started to return to her numb arm; she’ll have to check the rest of the satchels for defensive spells before they leave, or risk one sending a Yarder into cardiac arrest. She holds her arm close and ignores the sting. “In defiance of what, do you think?”

“There’s a barrel of ash in the garden – books and papers, judging by the remnants. She burned them just before she died.” He stares at the table like he can see through to the body above. “She was paranoid. Reclusive. Had her groceries delivered, refused to leave the house. Binned her post unopened. She hadn’t accepted a new client in two months.”

“She was afraid of someone. Someone who wanted what was in those books.”

Sherlock looks at her, his expression strangely awkward. Almost gentle. “She was ill, Joanna. She’d stopped taking her medication.”

Of course. Only children and the mad believe in magic. She looks away, the stinging fingers of her left hand curled into a fist. “Antipsychotics?”

“Yes.” There’s a silence. “Joanna, are you—”

“What the buggering fuck,” Anderson says, “are you two doing under the corpse?”

“Your job,” Joanna says, and beside her, Sherlock starts to laugh.

++   

After that, Lestrade makes them wait outside in the rain for their taxi. Sherlock sulks at the screen of his mobile, his coat collar tugged up to his ears. Joanna watches the sky, and the grey weight of the clouds.

They’re closer now to her grandmother’s house than to Baker Street. Closer than she’s been in years.

“Why the kitchen table?” Sherlock asks suddenly. “Why not just a record book? A framed bit of paper?”

Joanna closes her eyes. “Because when someone is dying or about to be born, a sturdy, flat surface is rather more useful than a bit of paper.”

“Ah.” He doesn’t say anything else. His mobile chimes, and she opens her eyes.

The book is caught in one of the neighbour’s hedges, not far from where they’re standing in the street. What’s left of the spine is charred black, and the front and back covers are gone. Only a few pages remain, curled in the rain, and as Joanna watches a gust of wind whips them open, revealing a picture of a woman – a woodcut printed in black ink. The woman is tall and robed, her face lifted to the sky. In one arm she holds a cornucopia overflowing; in the other, a scythe. Below her are four words printed in large, heavy letters.

THE LADY AGAMEDE’S ARCANA, Joanna reads, and a heart’s beat later the wind rips the book from the hedge and sends it into the air, tumbling down the rain-wet street.

She stands beside Sherlock on the pavement and watches it go.


chapter three

Tags: arcana, fandom: sherlock (bbc), fic
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